MOVIE RATING: 3.5 stars (B)
Sir Ridley Scott is back…to making smart sci-fi movies. Prometheus (2012) is his “prequel” to the Alien franchise that he started in 1979, and his first sci-fi film in 30 years since his cult favorite Blade Runner (1982). I REALLY wanted to LOVE this movie. Not just like it, but all-out love it. If only Scott had a better story to match the greatness of everything else that he brought to this fantastic visual and aural blockbuster. Still, there’s a lot to love here. And maybe my expectations were so high that there was no way for the film to ever live up. I just saw it yesterday, so I probably need more time to fully appreciate all its details. But my initial take on Promtheus is that it’s very good, but not outstanding and not Scott’s best work. Sorry, Sir Ridley!!! You know I love your work though. Gladiator (2000) is my current #1 movie of all time. And Thelma & Louise (1991) isn’t far behind.
Prometheus is an origin story, much like every other sci-fi/fantasy movie of the last decade. But this is about the origin of mankind, not some superhero. So it’s grounded in something more realistic and relevant…at least initially. It’s picking up the gauntlet thrown down by director Stanley Kubrick with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). If only it didn’t just pick it up and then put it on the shelf to be forgotten about. The movie opens with two archaeologists discovering a 35,000 year old cave painting in Scotland that has 6 orbs floating in the sky of its drawing with a large humanoid pointing at them. It’s in that 35,000 year old mystery, that the story got me VERY intrigued, in the same way Stargate (1994) got me with it’s ancient Egyptian alien archaeology. However, instead of really delving into the origins and mysteries of life on earth and the big questions of is there a God and how did the universe come into being, Prometheus simply turns into a guts-and-glory horror action flick halfway in. At that point, no one, human or alien really cares anymore about the big questions of life that got this whole journey started. They’re simply concerned with killing life at whatever cost.
I love that the humanoid aliens seemingly created us, but now want to destroy us. But WHY? I don’t need a definitive answer, but couldn’t we have at least played with the question for awhile after asking it? But maybe that’s all Promotheus was ever supposed to give us. I guess I expected more from Sir Ridley Scott at this stage in his filmmaking career. I wanted him to bring the smarts and finesse in his other great films to this one. Now, maybe, just maybe, these questions are meant to be looked at in more detail in Prometheus 2 and 3, which seem likely to have been on Scott and 20th Century Fox’s minds during the production of this first one. But as a moviegoer, I want each movie to be complete and great on its own merits as well as across its subsequent sequels if and when they happen. What if we don’t get another Prometheus? Then we’re left with a movie that’s really just a one-act “trailer” for something that could have or should have been. I know I’m being harsh on Ridley Scott and his team of thousands that worked hard for years to give us Prometheus. But I expected more from a guy who didn’t even make the sequel to his original film that helped start this current Hollywood movie franchise mess.
Ok…now that I’ve gotten out the bad, it’s time for the good. Prometheus is one of the most visually stunning sci-fi movies of all time. It’s pure eye candy from the first frame to the last. Every shot, every graphic, every visual effect, and every set/location just wowed me on the big screen in 4k digital projection. This film was completely shot on the Red Epic digital cinema camera and it shows just how fantastic and “filmic” digital cinematography can be. I hear the arguments, most recently by director Christopher Nolan, about how digital is not yet at the same level as film, but if Prometheus doesn’t put the final nail in that coffin, I don’t know what else possibly could. I never once wished that Prometheus was shot on film. It was just so perfect in digital. In fact I don’t think it could look as good in film, especially with all the visual effects. I give Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski and his camera team kudos for helping craft one of the best looking movies ever. This movie, and Wolski, better be a candidate for Best Cinematography at next year’s Oscars.
In terms of acting, Michael Fassbender once again steals the show…this time as an android named David. But most of the cast does a fine job in their contributing roles. I didn’t really like Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw though. I think a better actress could have brought more to the role, but she’s satisfactory. She’s the protagonist that we are being told this story through the eyes of, and maybe that’s partly why the story didn’t sink in with me as much as I wanted it to. Her character just didn’t have the human and emotional character depth that Fassbender’s robot had. And I think that’s a problem when the robots are more human than the humans. Sigourney Weaver brought something more to the party in her role as Ellen Ripley. Idris Elba was great as the ship’s captain, but I wanted more of him. And Charlize Theron played a “bitch” as good as anyone can. That’s a compliment by the way. I would’ve liked to found out more about the humanoid aliens that created us. One would assume they are as intelligent as us, if not more, but we’re given no one to connect with. Too bad.
The production design on Prometheus is breathtaking and epic. I can’t even imagine all the work by hundreds if not thousands of people that went into designing and building the sets, ships, vehicles, costumes, and props of this world. Arthur Max brought the same greatness to the production design of Prometheus as he brought to Se7en (1995), Gladiator (2000), and Black Hawk Down (2001), all three visual masterpieces.
The sound on Prometheus is just as epic and important, if not more so, than the visuals. And the entire sound team executed with precision and power. There’s really nothing else to say about it. You just have to hear it in a huge way on the big screen and you know exactly what I mean. The music on the other hand, by composer Marc Streitenfeld is a mixed bag. Half of it is perfect and the other half felt weird to me. Some of the music just didn’t fit emotionally in my opinion. I noticed several times that I was taken out of the storytelling because of the music creating the wrong mood. I was surprised because I certainly didn’t expect the musical score to not fit on a film like this. I can’t really think of any sci-fi film that it hasn’t fit on.
While Prometheus doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had for it, the bottom line is that I ABSOLUTELY 100% suggest you go see Prometheus on the big screen. It’s event movies like this that the big screen with big sound is just so darn perfect for. I highly regret not seeing Danny Boyle’s superb film Sunshine (2007) in the theater when it came out, but that movie flew under the radar, so I have an excuse to some degree. Prometheus clearly got some of its look and feel from Sunshine, which is a fantastic original sci-fi film that you should definitely check out if you like smart sci-fi. I plan on seeing Prometheus at least once more in the theater and then again on blu-ray. The experience is just so fantastic in the theater that I can’t imagine not having that as a reference for every time I watch this film again.
For some other points of view on Prometheus, positive and negative, check out these reviews:
1. Adam Quigley at /Film
2. Roger Ebert
Check out details on this film and its Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.